The mission statement of Universities Australia, the peak industry group for the sector, describes in lofty terms the purpose of universities: “For hundreds of years”, it reads, “universities have existed as institutions that seek to further human endeavour through the distribution of knowledge and the embodiment of the ideals of free inquiry, equality and independence”.
But after the recent announcement of the AUKUS deal, through which Australia will obtain nuclear powered submarines, universities have quickly abandoned such guiding principles. Mere weeks after the A$368 billion announcement, Catriona Jackson, chief executive of Universities Australia, was touring the US and meeting with State Department national security officials to learn how American universities could be integrated into the needs of the American military-industrial complex.
“The foundation has been laid”, she concluded, “so Australia’s universities can play their fullest role in supporting AUKUS, and we’re looking forward to building on these conversations at home”.
The tour was backed by Universities Australia’s submission to the Defence Strategic Review. The submission emphasised the key role universities could play both in training skilled workers and providing high-end technological research and development. The order of the day is aligning university research and education with the needs of Australian imperialism.
Every university wants a slice of the cake. “There’s a huge enthusiasm for [AUKUS] in industry, in the tertiary education sector and in government”, notes John Blaxland, professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University, in Cosmos, a quarterly science magazine. “I think momentum is building quite rapidly.”
He is not wrong—in the weeks since the AUKUS announcement, university after university has jostled to get a slice of the growing militarist pie.
The University Adelaide, which dares prospective students to “make history”, is updating its master’s degree in marine engineering to focus on nuclear propulsion and introducing a postgraduate course in radiation management. For university managers, making history means helping to construct and maintain the newest weapons of mass destruction.
The Western Australian state Labor government has announced $2.5 million for its public universities to develop short courses “to meet the defence industry’s workforce needs”. This must be music to the ears of Gia Parish, director of the Defence and Security Institute at the University of Western Australia. She warned Cosmos that students “don’t consider defence and security as a career path enough, it’s something we need to work on”.
For Parish, and the authors of the Sydney Morning Herald’s “Red Alert” series, Australia needs to develop a military-industrial complex of its own.
None of this is so surprising. Although they dress themselves in the lofty language of Enlightenment liberalism, universities usually perform quite a mundane function for capitalism: they indoctrinate and train professionals, managers and bureaucrats. As huge research institutions, they help corporations and governments develop new technology to make greater profits or carry out the business of war more effectively.
As Australian capitalism becomes more aggressive and militaristic, we can expect the universities to follow. Not just in rhetoric but in deed, with more teaching and research being concerned with “national defence”. The task for students will be to reject this, and the drive to war that it serves.
While most of us are being hit hard by the biggest cost of living crisis in a generation, Australia’s “big four” banks—Commonwealth, Westpac, ANZ and NAB—have had a record-breaking start to the financial year, posting a combined half-year profit of $17.1 billion. That’s a 19 percent increase from the equivalent period in 2021, and $1.3 billion more than the previous record of $15.8 billion in 2015.
Academic workers at Rutgers University in New Jersey have achieved a stunning victory with a serious campaign of industrial action, centred on an open-ended strike. Their approach is a model for unionists in Australia.
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The South Australian government has followed New South Wales and Victoria to undermine democratic rights. A bi-partisan bill has been rushed through parliament’s lower house, which proposes fines up to $50,000 or three months in jail if protesters “intentionally or recklessly obstruct the public place”.
NTEU Fightback, a rank-and-file union group of the National Tertiary Education Union at the University of Sydney, is calling on staff to vote No in the upcoming ballot on the proposed enterprise agreement. The campaign was launched at a forum on 25 May, attended by over 50 people. A members’ meeting on 13 June will consider the agreement. This week will probably be the first time that members are provided with a full list of proposed changes to our working conditions.
A recent NBC News poll found that 70 percent of US voters don’t want Joe Biden to recontest the presidency next year. Sixty percent feel likewise about Donald Trump. Yet the two men are currently odds-on to face each other in a 2024 re-run of the 2020 presidential election.